- Paperback: 592 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (March 6, 1991)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 067973371X
- ISBN-13: 978-0679733713
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 527 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #33,571 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Means of Ascent (The Years of Lyndon Johnson) Paperback – March 6, 1991
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The second installment in a projected four-volume biography of LBJ that opened with The Path to Power, Means of Ascent shines a harsh light on the early political years of one of America's most paradoxical presidents. The man who would later ram civil rights legislation through a reluctant Congress, and then be brought down by Vietnam, came out of a political swamp--Caro gives a graphic picture of the Texas democratic political machine at its most corrupt. The climax of the book is LBJ's election to the Senate in 1948, an election he won by 87 dubious votes out of almost a million. That vote arguably changed history. This book won the 1990 National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography.
"Thrilling. Caro burns into the reader's imagination the story of the [1948 Senate] election. Never has it been told so dramatically, with breathtaking detail piled on incredible development . . . In The Path to Power, Volume I of his monumental biography, Robert A. Caro ignited a blowtorch whose bright flame illuminated Johnson's early career. In Means of Ascent he intensifies the flame to a brilliant blue point." --Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, New York Times
"Brilliant. No brief review does justice to the drama of the story Caro is telling, which is nothing less than how present-day politics was born." --Henry F. Graff, Professor of History, Columbia University
"Riveting . . . Explosive . . . Readers are in for a white-knuckle, hair-raising tale that could have ended in any of a dozen ways, with L.B.J. in the White House the longest shot of all. This is good history. Caro's treatment achieves poetic intensity." --Paul Gray, Time
"Caro has a unique place among American political biographers. He has become, in many ways, the standard by which his fellows are measured. Caro's diligence [and] ambition are phenomenal . . . A remarkable story . . . Epic." --Mark Feeney, Boston Sunday Globe
"Immensely engaging . . . Caro is an indefatigable investigative reporter and a skillful historian who can make the most abstract material come vibrantly to life. [He has a] marvelous ability to tell a story . . . His analysis of how power is used---to build highways and dams, to win elections, to get rich---is masterly." --Ronald Steel, New York Times Book Review
"Caro has changed the art of political biography." --Nicholas von Hoffman
"A spellbinding, hypnotic journey into the political life and times of Lyndon Johnson. Riveting drama." --Jim Finley, Los Angeles Times
"The most compelling study of American political power and corruption since Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men.... It is nothing less than a political epic, the definitive account of a watershed election, rich with all of the intrigue and drama that have become the stuff of legend. [It has] the suspense of a political thriller." --Steve Neal, Fort Worth Star Telegram
"Magnificent . . . Thunder and lightning rip through Mr. Caro's viscerally compelling work." --Thomas W. Hazlett, The Wall Street Journal
"His research is dazzlingly exhaustive, his gripping story is enhanced by excellent writing, and his findings [seem] largely irrefutable. No one has done a better job of researching [the 1948 race] than Mr. Caro. He has produced a portrait not only of Lyndon Johnson, but also of the politics and values of mid-century America." --Philip Seib, Dallas Morning News
"Robert Caro gives us an LBJ who was human and then some, and what's enthralling is how this lucid, fascinating book keeps forcing us to confront the extreme contradictions of what (on good days) we call human nature. It's a testament to Robert Caro's skill that we find it so difficult to get a firm moral fix on Johnson. Caro is that rare biographer who seems intrigued by his subject but happily free from the urge to either heroicize, psychologize—or excoriate and punish." --Francine Prose, 7 Days
"Means of Ascent is a political biography, a detective story, a western and a character study. Above all, it is a richly textured, multilayered chronicle of a fundamental social and political change and how this change highlighted elements of Mr. Johnson's character: his powerful needs, tremendous ambition and particular genius." --Robert A. Kronley, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"One can trust every detail. The sagaciousness and discretion of Caro's investigations are obvious from the start. The story of that election has all the excitement of a murder mystery in which the culprit is known, but the question is whether justice will triumph. Caro tells it with the same thriller instinct as the old novelists, yet with the passion for accuracy of the most exacting detective." --Denis Wadley, Minneapolis/St. Paul Star Tribune
"A great book, and I believe the completed biography will be the great book about American politics in the twentieth century. The story of the '48 election is remarkable, unique. If it weren't a cliche, I'd say it has Tolstoyan epic grandeur." --Robert K. Massie
"Caro's writing summons a reviewer's cliches—gripping, compelling, absorbing, irresistible . . . unputdownable. The sentences sparkle. The details pile up in a mountain of evidence . . . Caro has at last set the record straight." --Richard Marius, Harvard Magazine
"A spellbinding political thriller . . . riveting." --Arthur Salm, San Diego Tribune
"Extraordinary and brilliant . . . Devastatingly persuasive . . . Caro's prodigious research, and his discovery of original sources ignored by other biographers, proves beyond doubt that much of what Johnson said about these years was false . . . The spadework combined with Caro's passion makes for drama more riveting than any novel." --Mark A. Gamin, Cleveland Plain Dealer
"We who are alive today are privileged to be present at the creation of what, when it is completed, may rank as the most riveting and disturbing American political biography of this century . . . Magnificently written." --Theodore M. O'Leary, Kansas City Star
"Caro is the premier biographer of our time." --Bernard D. Nossiter, The Progressive
"No one understands Lyndon Baines Johnson without reading Robert A. Caro." --James F. Vesely, Sacramento Union
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Mr. Caro does an exhaustive amount of research for all of his books. He writes with polish, providing the reader with not only intricate details but also in a style that is relatively easy to understand.
I say that I am re-reading this first book because I read it 5 years ago and many of the details have faded for me, so I’m back at it again and enjoying every page.
I look forward to the publication of the 5th volume of this series, as Mr. Caro continues his research. The 5th volume will hopefully have a lot of “meat” in it.
It is easy to be intimidated by such a work as that undertaken by Robert Caro. Volume One, “The Path to Power” is some 882 pages in length. Yet, it is so well written. It is a pleasure to read. Caro has produced a masterpiece.
More fascinating that the text itself is the character that it reveals of Lyndon Baines Johnson. Here is the ultimate politician. From his time at school, through his college years and then as a junior congressman, Johnson was always playing the numbers. His desire (even greed) for power was staggering. He would simply blow with the wind in order that he could see a benefit for himself. The character that Caro reveals to the reader is quite unattractive. Indeed, at times, repulsive. In my mind, it is a great shame that he ultimately rose to the most powerful office in the land.
Robert Caro took seven years to write “The Path to Power”. His research was precise and his sources numerous. His effort must be commended. I am amazed that he was to subsequently produce three further massive volumes to round out Johnson’s life. Johnson became Caro’s life work.
There are many who will be put off by the sheer scale of this book. My advice is to disregard such fears. Robert Caro has produced a political tour de force. I look forward to completing the journey.
I don't know why I was drawn to this book, as I am old enough to remember Johnson and my memories are not fond. The author, at the outset, acknowledges his subject's profound failings. ( To the extent that I wondered why would you want to write about such a despicable character?) My conclusion is that Caro did not confine his research and writing to the man and that is what distinguishes this effort
What I found in this volume was a thoroughly researched history of the geographic, economic, social, political and familial environment that birthed,nurtured and enabled Johnson's intense and hyperfocused ambitions. The descriptions of the "trap" of the Texas Hill Country, the dismal lives of its inhabitants, the US Government's shameful agricultural policy, the effects of the Geat Depession were vivid and enlightening. The descriptions of FDR and his programs made me understand my late father's idolatry.
In chronological order, Caro sets the scene and then shows how Johnson processed this information and stimulus to customize his tactics. Since his initial politicking in college, the foundation of his strategy stayed remarkably consistent with tactical adaptation to circumstance. He employed the most obvious of artifices ( such hyperbolic flattery) to engraciate himself with the powerful and disadvantage his peers to establish himself as a " person of importance" at each rung of his ladder. His ability to identify whom to use ( both above and below) and make them love it was uncanny.
Johnson's drive to distinguish himself from the common did not require moral compromise as he had no moral center or core values to consult. His political philosophy was remarkably flexible - yielding to his superiors in his relentless quest for advancement. He was God's own liberal to Roosevelt and the scourge of liberals to the Texas oilmen simultaneously.
Johnson attacked each challenge with unprecedented energy and creativity. Unfortunately, each such effort left a corrupted legacy. He was indefatigable in his campaign schedules - driving himself and others to exhaustion. His campaign financing practices outdid his predecessors in rapaciousness, laying the foundation for the current day systematic shakedown of and pandering to wealthy special interests. He perfected the Texas art form of vote rigging and buying. ( with one costly omission in his first Senate race). At each turn, he surveyed the landscape, quickly perceived how he could turn circumstance to his advantage through ingenious actions executed with consummate energy. His volume of personalized correspondence was prodigious ; his use of media ground- breaking. Anyway, this is what Caro thinks and his narrative contrasting Johnson's practices with those prevailing seem to support his argument.
To give the devil his due, Johnson was consummately imaginative and energetic, but he left the political landscape the poorer for his efforts. He took a bad system and made it worse and I saw the beginnings of so much that is wrong today in what I read.
Some niggling questions are - Johnson's relationship with Sam Rayburn and some of Sam's actions. I did not quite understand their relationship during and after the "Cactus Jack" presidential bid. Also Lady Bird is a cipher in this tale. Maybe she was. Is she hardly mentioned because she was shunted aside/forgotten by her husband or by the author?